2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4: First Drive Review
By Erik Johnson of Car and Driver
What Is It?
It's the fanciest damn Jeep Wrangler you've ever seen. For 2011, all Wranglers get a new, more upscale interior in place of the previous assemblage of Playskool-grade plastics, and the optional hardtop can be painted body color on Sahara editions like our test vehicle. Available new features include heated seats, heated power mirrors, automatic climate control, and a steering wheel with buttons for the radio, cruise control, and Bluetooth phone connection. Stability control is now standard, there are more power outlets in the cabin, and the rear windows have been enlarged, too. It seems the Wrangler is all growed up.
How Does It Drive?
Well, maybe not all growed up. Driving a Wrangler on the road still feels a bit like sprinting down a cobblestone street while wearing wooden clogs, so the Jeep isn't very competitive if you're looking at it from a purely dynamics standpoint. (Previous four-door Wranglers we've tested have turned in appalling 0.61-g skidpad and 217-foot 70-to-0-mph braking figures.) But piloting a Wrangler has always had a charm all its own, and this 2011 is no different, offering more of a man-and-machine connection than about anything else on sale today. Although the new interior duds make comparisons to less-hard-core SUVs — the ones people drive to Starbucks and never take off-road — more relevant than ever, this remains a one-of-a-kind vehicle that's fun in almost any weather and over almost any terrain, category five hurricanes and lava fields (just barely) excluded.
Increased sound deadening means less noise than before makes it to occupants, which is a good thing, because the groaning coming from the weak-sauce 202-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 is extremely unpleasant. The optional four-speed automatic in our Wrangler is an abomination, too — better to stick with the six-speed manual, which is at least more entertaining. A much better powertrain — namely, Chrysler's new corporate V-6, likely available with a six-speed automatic -- will arrive next year, and it should cure the Wrangler's glacially slow acceleration.
How Does It Stack Up?
Against more on-road-centric competition — so, everything else — the Wrangler is less civilized and not as dynamically capable. As we said, the interior invites such comparisons more than ever, but if you're after a grocery getter, the Wrangler still isn't for you. This is a vehicle for people with adventure on their minds, even if it's not on their agenda; it's just that those folks now get to enjoy more modern amenities and quality interior materials. The soft-touch surfaces and attractive design are great, and we particularly like the brand touchstones sprinkled throughout the cabin, including the Jeep grille logo on the windshield above the rearview mirror and the "Since 1941" insert for the front passenger's dash-mounted grab handle. Plus, with the painted hardtop and fender flares, the Sahara Unlimited sort of — sort of — looks like a Mercedes-Benz G-wagen. From the back. If you squint.
What's the Cost?
In the case of our test vehicle, pretty high. The Unlimited Sahara starts at $30,695, and ours had an additional $5800 worth of options, including the $385 Connectivity Group (USB port, voice control), a $490 set of front side airbags, the $825 automatic transmission — charging that much for a four-speed seems criminal — and automatic climate control, which costs $895. In addition, the heated front seats run $250, remote start is $200, and the painted hardtop is $1715. Finally, we had a chance to experience Chrysler's new nav system as part of the $1035 Media Center pack, which includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen and a hard-drive-based music storage setup. The nav is powered by Garmin software and works very well; it's as easy to use as Garmin's aftermarket units.
The final tally was $36,490, which is a lot of moola in Wrangler-land. The same money can buy any number of more civilized options, but if customers decide a Wrangler is exactly what they want, then the amount is far less obscene. After all, where else are they going to get all-terrain invincibility, buckets of personality, four-door rooflessness, and an interior this well done? Nowhere but this Jeep.
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):